It was enraging and exhausting to learn feedback on social media within the wake of Sarah Everard’s killing from males suggesting she had made a “poor determination” to stroll residence alone at midnight. Day-after-day, girls and gender non-conforming folks reflexively make calculations about their security in a manner that the majority males should not have to – and but generally, tragically, it nonetheless is just not sufficient.
We’ve normalised a society wherein males can transfer round as they please whereas the remainder of us worry for our lives for the straightforward act of travelling residence.
Entrenched gender norms and expectations are a big a part of the image, however they’re compounded by the bodily design of our public areas, which is commonly based mostly across the wants of males – white, cisgender, heterosexual males, particularly. The UK’s biking infrastructure is particularly hostile to girls – and it’s time we checked out it once more.
Biking doesn’t get rid of the danger of harassment or violence for ladies, however it not less than provides extra private management over route, velocity and time of journey, and removes a few of the vulnerability that comes with strolling or being trapped in a harmful scenario on public transport or in a taxi. As biking and concrete design professional Tiffany Lam says, “Once I ‘grew to become a bicycle owner’ in 2013, I felt liberated from road harassment. I used to be by no means nonetheless lengthy sufficient for somebody to attempt to harass me and even when I have been, I might get away a lot extra shortly on two wheels.”
Proof from different nations reveals that girls usually tend to cycle than males when there’s supportive biking infrastructure in place, resembling bike lanes which can be well-lit and totally separated from site visitors, and secure routes that facilitate various journeys (not merely commuting from the outer to interior metropolis). Within the Netherlands and Copenhagen for instance, 55% of journeys by bike are made by girls. In Paris and Lisbon, the variety of feminine cyclists has elevated with current funding in protected bike lanes and different measures.
But too many ladies within the UK really feel that biking is “not for them”. The 2019 Sustrans Bike Life survey discovered that 76% of ladies within the UK by no means cycle and solely 9% of ladies cycle commonly, in comparison with 21% of males, with girls from ethnic minorities the least prone to cycle. The survey additionally discovered that 36% of ladies who don’t cycle want to begin. Whereas concern about hazard from site visitors was the principle purpose for non-participation given by all respondents who don’t cycle, it was disproportionately a priority for ladies. That is hardly shocking: analysis has discovered that feminine cyclists within the UK are twice as seemingly as males to have confronted “close to misses” or harassment by drivers, whereas a US examine discovered that drivers are 3.8 instances extra prone to cross feminine cyclists too intently than male cyclists.
Interventions to get girls biking typically deal with constructing confidence, quite than designing infrastructure in another way. Whereas well-intentioned, these initiatives reinforce the narrative that it’s girls’s behaviour that should change – not males’s actions or the way in which we plan cities, cities and transit routes.
As an alternative, we have to construct biking infrastructure that’s explicitly feminist, knowledgeable by various and consultant viewpoints. The federal government’s new biking and strolling technique, launched final 12 months, demonstrates a seemingly real dedication to bettering biking infrastructure throughout the nation and descriptions some promising steps – together with many that may most likely profit feminine cyclists. But it surely consists of no important evaluation of the gender (or different) inequalities that inform our current biking infrastructure, or take the wants of various teams under consideration.
Higher evaluation of variations within the sorts of journeys made by men and women is important. A lot “signature” biking structure, resembling cycle superhighways, is designed to take folks from outer metropolis to interior, at peak hours – journeys extra aligned with males’s travelling patterns than girls’s. Much less precedence is given to facilitating secure biking on outer-to-outer metropolis routes, shorter journeys, and off-road routes, all of which usually tend to be taken by girls. Given that girls are extra seemingly to make use of a number of modes of transport and “trip-chain” (multi-stop journeys), extra consideration additionally must be paid to linking up secure bike routes with different types of transport, with higher provision of safe and well-lit bicycle parking at transport hubs.
The current growth of cycle-friendly initiatives resembling low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) has been criticised for lowering “pure surveillance” from site visitors – making girls really feel much less secure strolling at midnight. However this units up a false opposition between feminine cyclists and pedestrians, who in actuality have the identical easy demand – to have the ability to get residence safely. This shouldn’t be an excessive amount of to ask.
It goes with out saying that public area won’t be actually secure for ladies with out a wider reckoning with the gendered energy buildings and inequalities that constrain our lives. However investing in infrastructure that affords girls higher management over their very own security and mobility – in a society that concurrently denies them these and blames them for not defending themselves – could be a very good begin.